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With today being the 23rd anniversary of the start of the Rodney King Riot in Los Angeles, I was watching footage out of Baltimore and recalling that long-ago night when the world’s attention turned to the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues in South Los Angeles. As was the case in Los Angeles then, the city leaders in Baltimore this past week failed to see the signs of impending trouble that were clear to cops on the street. In both cities, the higher up the chain of command you looked, the more obtuseness you seemed to find. And in both cities, the mayors were complete failures when the crisis came. (Five years ago, I wrote on PJ Media about the failure of some LAPD managers – I refuse to call them “leaders” – to take charge and do what was necessary in those first early hours of the riot. You can find that piece here.)
There are many analogies to be drawn between the L.A. Riot and the one in Baltimore, but one that stands out in particular is the way firefighters in the two cities were treated by the mob. “If you wanted to be loved,” I was told as a young cop, “you should have joined the Fire Department.” As a general matter that saying is true, but not when the rioting starts, apparently.
Images from Baltimore of fire hoses being cut, and of fire engines being pelted with rocks, bricks, and bottles as they sped to a fire reminded me of what I saw in Los Angeles on the second or third night of the ‘92 riot. At the intersection of 108th and Main Streets in South Los Angeles, a fire station stands on one side of 108th and a police station stands on the other. As the rioting grew more intense — and as resources from beyond Los Angeles County were brought in to assist — 108th Street between Main and Broadway was blocked off to serve as a staging area for police cars and fire apparatus. (If you’re wondering, Broadway in South Los Angeles is nothing at all like Broadway in New York.)